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Personal Trainers…Staying in Our Scope of Practice

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*Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With more and more gyms requiring personal trainers to get certified, it still baffles my mind that so many of these personal trainers still do things that are outside their scope of practice. In this blog post I am going to discuss areas where personal trainers tend to step outside their scope of practice and how you can pin point it.

With this being said, I know that many personal trainers pair their services with other things that they are licensed to do like chiropractic, physical therapy, dietetics etc. This does not apply to them. They obviously are trained professionals in their field and are highly qualified to do what they do.

This article is geared towards those trainers that “think” that they are qualified with out having the proper licensure or credentials, and how you can stay safe by knowing the difference.

  1. Personal Trainers who crack your back or joints, or give you a massage after your workout. It is unethical for a personal trainer to engage in this activity even if they have had some “training” on it. Adjustments, and massage therapy work should be done by those who are properly educated with licensure to do so.

A friend of mine who is a licensed chiropractor was in the gym and she saw a personal trainer ask their client to lay on the floor while he proceeded to crack this clients back.  Later on when she was telling us of this she very clearly explained why this was inappropriate for the trainer to be doing so. 1. They are not a health care professional (chiropractor or physical therapist.) 2. While she can assume that as a personal trainer this person has some knowledge of the human body, this does not give them permission to perform such treatments. 3. This personal trainer could have popped the clients rib, dislocated a disc, or punctured an organ. This is very serious business and as personal trainers our MAIN responsibility, in my opinion is to provide safe and effective training programs. This clearly crosses many legal and ethical lines! Don’t let anyone but a chiropractor, or physical therapist perform this on you!

2. Massage treatments, what harm could come from muscle manipulation? It seems harmless right? Well it’s not! Improper manipulation of musculature could cause nerves to be pinched or joints dislocated. There is a reason why Massage therapists need to get licensed! A personal story from a personal client of mine. We will call her “Abby.”

Abby went to a salon where they were allowing their new massage therapists to offer free chair massages. She thought she would give it a try. Not being seasoned, the massage therapist had her sit in the massage chair and with out asking if she needed adjustments to the chair, the massage therapist began her work. When she was done, my client got up, and finished her appointment with her hairdresser.

A day later, Abby felt a pain in her hip and there was a bruise where she had been leaning up against the massage chair. Slightly freaked out because it hurt to sit, stand, or bend, she called her physical therapist. After the physical therapist did her assessment, she assured my client that no real damage had been made, and that the most likely cause was that the massage therapist, being new, probably should have taken the time to assess the chair because when she applied pressure to Abby, the hip bone was pressing into part of the chair that was not as well padded.

Now I understand you are probably thinking well that has nothing to do with personal trainers. Well it does, because you see, if an unseasoned massage therapist can make that mistake and she is licensed, think about the damage that a personal trainer, who is not properly trained or unlicensed can do. Not to mention it is beyond their scope of practice as a personal trainer to be doing such things so keep that in mind the next time your personal trainer offers to give you a massage at the end of your workout.

3. Personal Trainers who give meal plans that are not registered dietitians. I see this all the time. Personal trainers telling clients what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner because that is what they ate to see the results that they have.

As a personal trainer, yes it is part of our job description to talk about nutrition and eating healthfully. However, beyond that its really not in a personal trainers scope of practice. Why? What is so harmful about telling people what to eat? A few things

  1. Everyone’s physiology is different. How we process food is different for each person and our nutritional needs are different. Yes there are a few commonalities among all of us, such as well all need to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and we should all strive for high fiber foods, etc. However, there may be some things that differ such as food allergies and intolerances that prevent people from eating certain foods.
  2. People may be harboring illnesses that do not have visible outward signs or they may not know themselves that they are in the process of developing conditions. Altering a persons diet without having a full understanding of a persons health history and how components of food can alter a persons health can be detrimental.
  3. The ONLY people that should be administering food menu’s are those that are licensed to do so with the proper education and training. Registered Dietitians go through rigorous training to understand how the human body works and how food can react in the body.

I will give you an example, its a bit extreme, but I feel that in order to make a point it is important to really see the damage that can be done when personal trainers start giving menu’s to their clients. **This is not a true story**

Jenna, 54 years old, about 40 lbs over weight comes to you the personal trainer for help with weight loss. As far as she is concerned, she is healthy and has no health issues that she is aware of, but then again, she has not been to the doctors in a few years.

She asks you to give her a meal plan as part of her program to help her with her weight loss. You are not a registered dietitian. You have been doing research on different diets and you decide on one that worked well for you, so you give it to her as part of her plan.

With in a week or so of starting the diet she starting noticing that her hair was falling out, that she was feeling weak and tired all the time. Worried that she might be sick she finally caves and goes to see her doctor. Upon further review, it turns out that the diet that worked so well for you was missing nutrients, vitamins, minerals etc. That she needed for her body to function properly. Noticing the recent weight loss, he orders a few more blood tests and then he refers her to a dietitian. The dietitian analyses her diet and realizes that she is severely deficient in several key nutrients that are necessary for hair growth and decreasing fatigue.

This is bad news for the personal trainer because if the dietitian makes mention that the personal trainer should have had Jenna go see a registered dietitian right off the bat, then Jenna would have been saved a lot of time and money not to mention the health scare. Jenna extremely upset, decided that she needs to take action and she files a law suit against you as a personal trainer for neglect and malpractice.

See what I am getting at here? 1. You have stepped over your scope of practice by offering a meal plan that was not approved by a dietitian. 2. You put yourself in a situation that easily could have been avoided. 3. You jeopardized another humans health and well being.

These are only just a few of the things that you should be keeping your eye out for when looking for a personal trainer. Here is what you can do to keep yourself safe

  1. If your personal trainer offers to crack your back, give you a massage or offer to manipulate your skeletal or musculature in any way ALWAYS ask if they are licensed to do so. Meaning they can provide PROOF that they are licensed, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists. If they can not do this and you like them as a personal trainer kindly reject the offer. If you don’t feel that you have a connection with the trainer feel free to start looking elsewhere!
  2. Instead of asking your trainer for a meal plan, ask them to refer you to a dietitian or ask if they know one who they can refer you to. If they offer to provide a meal plan to you, ask if they are licensed and registered to do so. Meaning the have a degree in nutrition management AND they did the proper requirements that all registered dietitians are mandated to take  AND they have taken their boards to be certified. If one or ALL of those components are missing kindly say thanks but no thanks and talk with your physician about getting a referral.

I hope that after reading this article you can feel confident that your personal trainer will surround you with a team of professionals including themselves in helping you achieve your goals. A great personal trainer knows when to refer out. A great personal trainer always has your best interests in mind and a great personal trainer will ALWAYS know how to stay within their scope of practice.

Namaste!

Jules

 

 

Author:

Owner of Yoga Fusion Fitness Certified Personal Trainer and Yoga Teacher

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